Sergio Martinez is king, but ruling a mediocre realm. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Michael Woods has a very good piece at ESPN New York on Sergio Martinez, plus his promoter Lou DiBella and adviser Sampson Lewkowicz. In it, Martinez's team details their desire to match their fighter with Floyd Mayweather Jr or Manny Pacquiao, while they try perhaps in vain to sell the October 1 fight between the middleweight champion and Darren Barker, a good fighter from the United Kingdom who has no name value in the United States, and while a credible enough challenger, certainly not one that has anyone besides Barker and his diehard fans excited.
There were a couple of quotes that really stuck out to me:
"A guy shouldn't be victimized by his own greatness, so the fact that a Darren Barker stepped up to the opportunity, there shouldn't be any criticism of this fight," DiBella said. "We pursued so many fights that Martinez can't get. All you can do is to let him go out and keep showing his excellence."
... "If [a potential opponent says] 152, he will not take it. If they say 153, he will not take it. As an adviser, I will not take it," Lewkowicz said.
Lewkowicz said Cotto's people said thanks, but no thanks, for about a year. "Cotto doesn't want to lose; Sergio is too skilled," Lewkowicz said.
The most talked-about opponents for Martinez (those big fish he can't land) are Mayweather, Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr -- there's one consistency here, and then there's Chavez, who ... well, he's what he is, and we all know what he is. He's a Top Rank cash cow and a fighter nobody thinks stands a chance in the ring with Martinez.
But the other three have a few things in common. They're all bigger stars than Martinez, whether you think it's fair or not. Martinez "needs" them a lot more than they "need" him. Like it or not, they would all dictate the terms of a fight, because they're not chasing Sergio, he's chasing them. And they're all, for all intents and purposes, welterweights. Sergio Martinez is the middleweight champion of the world.
Am I the only one that finds it a bit strange that Martinez's team -- not so much Sergio himself -- isn't getting much flak for calling out a bunch of welterweights?
I know Cotto holds a belt at 154, but that belt was weakly won and has been weakly defended against Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga, respectively. Cotto does not look like a junior middleweight in the ring, because he really isn't one. He's stretching himself very thin at 154, and they're picking the right opponents.
Of course Cotto doesn't want to fight Martinez. Martinez is a middleweight. Cotto is pretending to be a junior middleweight for business reasons.
Of course Pacquiao doesn't want to fight Martinez. Pacquiao is 5'6" and stretching himself at welterweight. Martinez is a middleweight.
Of course Mayweather -- the most likely of the three to fight Martinez -- probably doesn't want to fight Martinez, either. We've seen Floyd once over the 147-pound limit, and while he won, it definitely wasn't pretty, and the weight pretty clearly was too high for him.
Mayweather and Pacquiao have both taken guff for fighting lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez, first Floyd in 2009 and now Manny in November. But isn't that basically the same thing that Martinez is trying to do with Floyd or Manny or Miguel?
Martinez is a middleweight. The fact that he rules a division that has so few marketable fighters is tough luck, but it's the reality. Martinez isn't even out there trying to fight the best middleweights. He wants to fight Chavez. Why? Money, of course. Chavez would be an easy payday for Martinez, and a "bigger" fight than the likes of Barker, or Gennady Golovkin, or Felix Sturm, or Daniel Geale. So the idea that Martinez is purposely trying to make "great fights" is pretty easily debunked as Martinez trying to make money fights, same as anyone else. Nobody's ducking him, except maybe Chavez, but who really needs to see Martinez vs Chavez to know who's better?
Martinez is a very talented fighter. So why doesn't he look north to super middleweight, a hot division with several fighters who have loads of U.S. TV exposure? Because he's too small, he says. Fair enough, but it makes the calling out of smaller fighters even less admirable. Martinez knows his own limits and avoids trying to surpass them. So do the guys he wants to fight, and they exercise the same restraint.
I'm not saying this to run down Sergio Martinez, but his situation is this, to put it bluntly: He picked the wrong time to be a 36-year-old middleweight who took forever to reach American airwaves. He deserves his respect as a fighter. He's one of the best in the world. And frankly he deserves to have better competition in his weight class. But Martinez can't create interesting middleweights out of thin air, and if they want to go bigger, they're going to have to literally go bigger, not smaller.
Teddy Atlas said some weeks back on ESPN's Friday Night Fights that Manny Pacquiao needed to go up further in weight to prove himself. Most brushed it off as the usual Atlas bunk regarding Pacquiao, a fighter he seems to dislike for whatever reason, but here's a question: Why doesn't that hold true for Sergio Martinez? If Pacquiao should go up to fight Sergio, shouldn't it stand to reason that in order to prove his own greatness (or very goodness, or whatever), Martinez should also go up in weight with a lack of great options in his current class?
There are good fights out there for Sergio Martinez. They're at 168 pounds. The reality is that he's not really likely to get one of the money men to take risks, because he doesn't have the juice to do force them into that. He's going to have to take the risk himself, or stay comfortable at 160 with the Darren Barkers of the world. Either way is fine, but only one of them can result in Martinez becoming the attraction he may well deserve to be.